No-one wants to go into hospital, especially older people who can feel disoriented and fearful. They are as keen as the NHS to avoid crisis situations that take them to A & E departments and then on to hospital wards where, after treatment, they may find themselves ‘trapped’ because they are not able to care for themselves at home.

The answer is to help prevent them reaching crisis point in the first place. Recently NHS England announced that it is is to share £2 million amongst eight charities to help them run projects to help keep the elderly out of hospitals this winter. It’s the first time national funds have been used in this way. Also, £3.8bn, largely sourced from the NHS budget, is being put into the social care system.

Now, in another move, the elderly are  being visited in their home by district nurses armed with questionnaires. They ask what the person should like to happen if their health suddenly fails – where they would prefer to die, and startlingly, if they agree with a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order.

Roy Lilley, a health policy analyst, whose mother was visited by a nurse with the form, said that it was outrageous that elderly, frail, but otherwise healthy people should be asked by complete strangers to sign a form agreeing that they shouldn’t be resuscitated.

He said that they would be ‘frightened to death’ thinking that the nurses know something they don’t and will feel obliged to sign the form so as not to be thought a nuisance.

Mr Lilley’s mother is fortunate in having a son who cares about her. But many older people have no family, or indeed anyone at all, to care for them. In a recent report Age UK has increased the figure of 800,000 that were facing ‘catastrophe’ to 900,000.

It seems to be a vicious circle. Thousands of isolated older people are at risk of going into A & E with infections or falls that could have been prevented had they been being cared for. Once treated they may not be able to go home because of the lack of care.

And the NHS, to its credit, is simply doing its best.

As I said in an earlier post, wouldn’t it be great if there was a readily available government fund for local churches to help support the vulnerable old in their neighbourhoods?

Links to relevant items – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2729332/Do-want-let-die-Question-nurses-home-visits-told-ask-elderly-patients-just-met.html and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28116570

Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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